EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The New York Islanders know about the moves other teams in the Metropolitan Division made in the off-season. It just doesn’t matter to them.
After finishing second in the division and reaching the second round of the playoffs, the Islanders return mostly the same roster and are confident they can be successful again in the second year under team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.
Confident in Returning Players
“You look at our division, and you talk about teams definitely got better,” forward Jordan Eberle said Thursday at media day. “The additions they made, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. The nice thing with our group, we know what to expect. It’s just a matter of putting in the work, playing the right way.”
Thanks to a defensive-minded system in Trotz’s first year with the team, the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan at 48-27-7. They followed that with a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemingly went their way. After a 10-day layoff to start the next round, nothing went New York’s way as the Islanders couldn’t rediscover their scoring touch and were swept by Carolina.
“I don’t think you ever really get over it,” captain Anders Lee said of the series loss. “You learn from it and you take away from it what you can, but it’s always going to be there.”
The Islanders pursued forward Artemi Panarin in free agency to bolster the offence, but he decided to sign with the crosstown-rival Rangers. Still, the Islanders retained most of their own free agents, including Eberle, Lee and Brock Nelson
“I am not a believer in change for the sake of change,” Lamoriello said. “We looked at our team and we felt the players that we wanted to bring back we were able to do that. … We’re happy with the people we have right now.”
After a different head coach in each of the previous three training camps, the Islanders have some continuity this year. They know what to expect with Trotz and look to replicate what they did well last season.
More things to know as the Islanders head into their first on-ice sessions on Friday:
One big change was made in goal, with the addition of veteran Semyon Varlamov to replace Vezina Trophy finalist and fan-favourite Robin Lehner. That gives Thomas Greiss his third goalie partner in three seasons. Greiss and Lehner were solid all season, sharing the William Jennings Trophy for the team allowing the fewest goals in the league.
Greiss enters the final year of his contract with Ilya Sorokin’s move from the KHL a possibility next season. Greiss was 23-14-2 with five shutouts, a .927 save-percentage and 2.28 goals-against average in 43 games last season. In four seasons with the Islanders, he is 85-51-13 with 10 shutouts, a .916 save-percentage and 2.69 GAA over 162 games.
Varlamov, who has started all but 17 of 448 games he’s appeared in over his 11-year career with Washington and Colorado, is coming off a 20-19-9 season with two shutouts, a .909 save-percentage and 2.87 GAA in 49 games for the Avalanche.
A strong team defence was the Islanders’ blueprint last season, and they return seven defenceman in Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews. Noah Dobson will get a long look in camp, but is a long shot to make the roster — barring a major injury or trade involving one of the entrenched top-seven in the unit.
“There’s a lot of good defencemen,” Boychuk said. “So it’s just the competition, pushing each other to be the best we can.”
Toews had a strong camp a year ago, but began the season with Bridgeport of the AHL before being called up in December. If the 19-year-old Dobson, selected 12th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, doesn’t make the opening-day roster, he must be sent back to juniors.
Waiting on Belmont Park
The Islanders will be entering the second season of an expected three-year arrangement to split home games between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center while a new arena is built at Belmont Park. The target start is the 2021-22 season.
Construction at the new site hasn’t begun, and the town of Floral Park filed a lawsuit this week to stop the project. However, Lamoriello was confident the arena will be built on time.
“My understanding is … everything is on schedule,” Lamoriello said. “I have total confidence it will be there when they say it will be.”
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Vin A. Cherwoo, The Associated Press